Call him the Grinch Who Stole the Fourth of July and Encinitas attorney Marco Gonzalez will probably turn a deaf ear.
“I try to respond to reasonably minded detractors with science and sound policy arguments. When people use racial epithets or are clearly just expressing their hate and ignorance, I just ignore them.”
If you looked up fireworks shows around town this Fourth, and found the La Jolla Cove show marked “tentative,” Marco and the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation were the cause. And to some, this makes him an Enemy of State.
Gonzalez became this polemic figure when he sued the city, on behalf of CERF, to require them to conduct appropriate studies on the effects of fireworks and mitigate their effects on water and other environmentally sensitive habitats. The court’s decision on June 3 came so late that, although it allowed the show to go on, by then many donors had been scared off and funding was a critical concern until the last second.
CERF used the cove as a sort of test case, but would like studies to be conducted on all the city’s waterways near fireworks displays. Starting with the cove was an easy choice since the protected marine sanctuary there could be so environmentally sensitive to the loud noises and toxins fireworks have been shown to discharge, like barium, arsenic and perchlorate salts.
Gonzalez says the suit is also meant to highlight that the city of San Diego has violated the California Environmental Quality Act for 25 years by not following the permit process. This was confirmed in an additional ruling in the case that the city had indeed been breaking the law.
“The fact that they are supposed to represent freedom, yet instead are done in such a way that they represent disregard for our environmental laws is unacceptable,” he says.
This sounds like a direct answer to those detractors who’ve accused him of being unpatriotic and just plain evil. He says, “Both because we're challenging events considered representative of our collective patriotism, and because my last name is Hispanic, we get a lot of really negative and threatening emails from the public. We're consistently told to ‘go home’, and ‘go back where you came from,’ which is ironic since I was born and raised right here in San Diego County, not Mexico. … People suggest we should be harmed personally, or that our houses or businesses should be vandalized.”
Gonzalez is also a dad to two young children, and although he and his wife met through a shared love of the environment and work for the Surfrider Foundation and she’s very supportive of what he does, they both share concerns that foes have published their home address online with suggestions people go there to show their dissatisfaction. Nor does it sit well with her that they’ve received more than one death threat over this.
I know the Gonzalezes and consider them close friends. I feel protective for my daughters’ friends when I hear what they've been dealing with. I think of my own family and how protective I already feel just because I write about them in a public forum. What would I do if we ever received threats like this?
When I ask Gonzalez about how they handle the risks, he says, “Jamie still fundamentally holds on to the notion that people are good, and while they need to vent with threats and negative comments, escalating to actual violence isn't all that likely.”
He says the risk from all the threats is far outweighed by the results of the work itself.
In a June 4 press release, Gonzalez admitted CERF was disappointed with the court’s ruling but they understood “the immense pressure the City and fireworks organizers have created by delaying these proceedings so long. ... But in the end there will be significant changes in the way the City handles these events going forward and that was our goal all along.”
After the fireworks over La Jolla went dark in the night sky, Gonzalez led a small team out to the cove to test the waters for toxic levels. The results will take a few weeks, but CERF is in it for the long haul.
As for what he tells his kids, Gonzalez says most of it is too much for a 5- and 3-year-old to understand, but they do tell them that “all creatures need voices, and sometimes its mom and dad's jobs to be those voices.”
As far as his heated detractors, he believes that much like the environmental work he’s doing, “It's all about respect and tolerance.”